Many allegedly great minds from professors to school presidents have devoted peals of pages to the multibillion-dollar industry otherwise known as NCAA athletics. Yet no one has quite put their finger on the contradictions, frustrations, and tragicomedy of being the labor in this industry—a so-called student-athlete—quite like Ohio State’s third-string freshman quarterback, Cardale Jones. On Friday Jones tweeted, “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.”
Jones immediately deleted the tweet—as well as his entire Twitter account—but as many have learned before him, deleting a tweet is like cleaning a grease stain with fruit punch. As soon as the 18-year-old sent his tweet out into the world, Cardale Jones was held up as yet another example of (altogether now) “everything that’s wrong” with today’s athlete. Even worse, Jones, who hasn’t played one snap all season, was benched for Saturday’s game. As the Toledo Blade put it, “Mark it down as DNP (tweet).
But Jones’s crime wasn’t authoring what the Daily News called a “lame-brained tweet.” It was committing, to paraphrase Michael Kinsley, the greatest sin in sports: he was caught telling the truth. “We ain’t come to school to play classes” will most likely be a quote of mockery that rings through the ages. But Cardale Jones has also hit on something factual. Ohio State football, like a select sampling of the sport’s aristocracy, has morphed over the last thirty years into a multibillion-dollar business. Even in the shadow of sanction and scandal, according to Forbes, the Buckeyes program creates $63 million in revenue every year and accounts for 73 percent of all the athletic departments profits.
Columbus is where legendary coach Woody Hayes was pushed out after striking an opposing player in 1978. He was making $40,000 a year when removed. Their coach today, Urban Meyer, draws a base salary of $4 million and is the highest paid public employee in the state. Meyer also gets use of a private plane and a swanky golf club membership, and there’s a fellowship in his name. He can also earn six-figure bonuses as well as raises for staying on the job. The football coach earns three times what Ohio State President Gordon Gee does. As higher education lawyer Sheldon Steinbach said to USA Today, “The hell with gold. I want to buy futures in coaches’ contracts.”